NSW Firefighter Greg Williams shares his career transition experience, its impacts on mental health and the value of family support.

Greg had a successful career as a firefighter, reaching the rank of Station Officer and working as a Station Commander at several stations across NSW. In 2015 Greg began to realise that his career as a firefighter was going to come to an end.

I started to doubt my career, started thinking. 

Greg shares his experience of career transition in this Q&A.

What sort of career did you have with Fire and Rescue NSW?

I was a firefighter for 31 years, working in different stations. I started at the Headquarters in Sydney City as a Junior then moved to Botany, Engadine and Hurstville. I worked for 10 years at Menai attending a range of incidents and was among the 2000 Olympics contingent.

During my career, I attended a number of operations including large bushfires, house fires, and car accidents. I’d also taken on additional responsibilities as Acting Wellbeing Coordinator and volunteer Peer Support Officer.

I enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with working in Fire and Rescue, and I also had friends outside of work. My son loved soccer so I was also part of supporting his interests in soccer.

What were the signs that career transition may be necessary for you?

Primarily there were physical injuries caused by the musculoskeletal demands of being a firefighter. I’d had two shoulder operations that saw me confined to light duties during recovery and that impacted on my mental wellbeing.

I started to doubt my career, started thinking. The peer support I had been providing was reintroducing issues of my own experiences of trauma.

Then, unrelated to work, my knees gave way and I retired from service with physical injuries.

What was your most significant challenge?

With the physical injuries I was worried I wasn’t fit for the job. I felt a responsibility to the team and I didn’t want to let them down.

During recovery I was away from the station. My life had been built around shift work but now I was working a day job.

I worked in operational support positions with the People & Culture team at Fire and Rescue, including acting in the position of Safety Coordinator for NSW. I applied for promotional positions but didn’t perform well in interviews as my confidence was suffering.

How did you overcome these challenges and set yourself up for successful transition?

I knew I was going through a paradigm shift. I adopted a growth mindset, focussing on what I had to do to get better. I took one day at a time.

Physical wellbeing was key to resetting my mindset and dumping the psychological weights I was carrying around.

FRNSW’s Health & Safety branch helped me get RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) for my lived experiences. I was conferred a Diploma of Counselling, Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, and a Diploma in Workplace, Health and Safety.

What tips do you have for finding a new career you love?

Don’t stay helpless. Go the extra mile, be flexible and open to opportunities. Focus on your strengths.

A couple of weeks after I left Fire and Rescue there was an opening at a school for a bus driver. I thought ‘if I can drive a fire truck I can drive a school bus!’

It was a couple of hours of work and it got me up early in the mornings. I’d often get to the first pickup location early and take a walk along the beach before starting.

Since then I’ve been employed in a workplace health and safety role and was a Safety Officer for the Invictus games.

We all have different strengths. I have a very supportive and loving family and that really helped.

What would you do differently?

I’d try to go back to my station more because the injuries kept me away from my crew and I felt frustrated and disconnected from them.

What’s your final message about career transition?

The solution is the struggle. Be courageous, turn to your support network: you don’t have to do it alone, and the best thing is gaining a new perspective.

Impacts on family

Hear about the family impacts of career transition in this interview with Greg’s wife Debbie.

Further resources

For more information about the FRNSW Career Transition Guide please call 02 9265 2800.

Read more about career transition in our news story Guide to Successful Career Transition.

The work already undertaken by Fire and Rescue NSW to support its employees has been industry-leading said Mark Coyne, CEO of EML.

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